| The Detroit News
Here are four observations after having a night to ponder the Detroit Lions’ 35-29 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Lions coach Matt Patricia is getting crushed, locally and nationally, for his postgame comments. While answering why he still believes he’s still the guy to get the job done, Patricia said, “I think when I came to Detroit there was a lot of work to do, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Among the harshest criticism has come from former Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky, who summed up Patricia’s statement as a “bunch of trash.”
Orlovsky is the voice of the fans here. No one wants to hear it. Patricia inherited a roster that had gone 9-7 the previous two seasons, had a franchise quarterback and several key building blocks in place, and had a reasonably good cap situation. He was hired with the expectation he could take a slightly above-average roster to the next level, to elevate a fringe contender to an annual challenger for the NFC North crown.
No need to run the numbers again. You know what has actually happened.
Still, let’s add some context to the comments. First of all, “work to do” is a verbal crutch for the coach. He said it six times in 10 minutes on Sunday, and he says it after wins and losses. He’s built much of his identity around being a grinder and always pointing toward “work to do” is a reflection of that.
And he probably did believe he had a lot of work to do. His cultural vision for the franchise was different than former coach Jim Caldwell’s. The same can be said for the defensive scheme. So Patricia had not one, but two overhauls ahead of him. And as a first-year head coach getting a late start because his former team made the Super Bowl the year he was hired by the Lions, he was drinking from a fire hose from the start.
But the well of patience has run dry. In Year 3, it’s been a complete and total failure. Patricia’s culture is different but not better than his predecessor’s. The same can be said with the team’s schematics. The results bear this out.
There’s still a lot of work to do. Unfortunately, more now than then.
It’s been a long time since this franchise has gone through a rebuild. Since drafting Matthew Stafford in 2009 and reaching the playoffs in 2011, it’s been more about retooling the roster year-to-year than burning everything to the ground and starting from scratch. That’s usually how it works once you have the most important piece — the quarterback — in place.
But more than ever, it feels like the Lions are on the cusp of starting over. Or, at the very least, that’s what they should be considering.
Stafford doesn’t look right. Maybe he’s still dealing with some rust from his lengthy layoff, combined with a shortened offseason, but the accuracy that has improved so much over the years has regressed to early-career levels. He’s throwing shorter this season, the completion percentage is down and he’s putting more balls in harm’s way. He’s also on pace to take the most sacks in his career.
This season is well on its way to being another lost year for Stafford, and at 32, who knows how many more he has left where he can perform at a high level. Assuming the Lions bring on a new general manager and coach next season, it’s not unreasonable to say they shouldn’t start with their own quarterback as well, especially if the Lions have a shot at Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields or Trey Lance in the draft.
There will be major short-term cap ramifications to making such a move. The Lions will be on the hook for $25 million in dead money if they move Stafford. But if there’s an interested buyer this offseason, it’s feeling more and more like the time to rip that Band-Aid off.
One of Patricia’s most troubling failures has been the incompetence of his defensive front. These are all his players, whether draft picks or free-agent additions, and they’re not getting the job done.
The stat from Sunday’s loss that jumps off the page is the Saints’ third- and fourth-down efficiency. The opponent converted 11 of those 15 situations, most with ease.
Patricia talks about gotta-have-it plays and few encapsulate that mantra more than stopping drives when you have the opportunity. Yet on run plays, the Saints’ offensive line was getting all the push, and when they dropped back to pass, there was rarely any pressure.
After three years to build this the way Patricia envisioned and this is the product.
Want a positive from Sunday? Well, running back D’Andre Swift went from not being used much at all in Arizona to being a factor against the Saints. The second-round rookie caught an early touchdown pass and hauled in all four of his targets on the afternoon. He also had four carries, for a season-high 22 yards (5.5 yards per attempt).
It won’t be enough to take the sour taste out of anyone’s mouth, but when scouring the roster for building blocks, Swift is clearly one.